Getting to the Root Cause Before the Titanic Hits the Iceberg: Part 2

This is part 2 of our three-part blog series on how to identify, evaluate, and solve the root cause blocking your sales effectiveness.

In my previous post, I focused on the results of a “freezing-air-under-warmer-air” mirage that Tim Maltin spoke about in his Titanic Final Mystery documentary. This mirage bent the horizon and effectively cloaked the iceberg. The air was so cold that objects would cause a halo of condensation around them, further cloaking the iceberg.

Quite often, our experience in analyzing B2B sales uncovers the same illusions. A company may have illusions about its competitors or its buyers, and these illusions could cloak a major obstacle to the company’s success. Just as technology on the Titanic limited its ability to see the iceberg to one medium that was fallible, so are companies limited in their visibility into their buyers’ minds and competitors’ strategies.


Now, let us return to the second that the lookouts were finally able to see the iceberg through the optical illusions cloaking it. The Titanic was 30 seconds away. The lookouts sounded the bell, and the Titanic crew immediately reversed engines and turned hard left.

There are some very important things to note here:

  • Ships don’t reverse immediately, so the engine only slowed it down.
  • The ship was maneuverable enough that the bow missed the iceberg, which actually made things worse.
  • The iceberg impacted the Titanic in a sliding blow, beginning a bit behind the bow and ripping open hull plating on six watertight compartments.

The Titanic had 16 watertight compartments. This was so impressive to the regulatory agencies of the time that its builders were “rewarded” with the “right” to equip the ship with fewer lifeboats.

The theory was that in a collision, the Titanic would still float and so the lifeboats would not be needed. In actuality, the Titanic could only withstand the flooding of 4 of those compartments—1/4th of the total—without sinking, but no one really believed a collision would flood more than that. The hull of the Titanic was just as strong as a military battleship.

RMS Titanic

The Titanic on its maiden voyage.


Be in the Moment and Prepare to Leap

Due to the immense size of the ship and the nature of the collision, most of the passengers did not even feel the collision. The crew became aware of it quickly, however, and stopped the ship. Since it was the Titanic’s maiden voyage, the ship’s designer was aboard. He examined the damage, ran the calculations, and was forced to conclude that the ship would sink.
However, the passengers—and many of the crew—were unwilling to accept that the ship could sink. When the order was given to evacuate the ship, passengers were extremely reluctant to leave what they perceived as a large steel “lifeboat” for tiny, wooden, open-air lifeboats in freezing weather, and so the first few lifeboats were lowered only half full.

The unfortunate truth is that it would have been vastly better had the Titanic hit the iceberg straight on. First, everyone would have felt the collision and would have been quicker to react. Second, less watertight compartments would have been ripped open, enabling the ship to stay afloat.

Sometimes a major loss can be a catalyst for sorely-needed change, while smaller losses seem easier to ignore.

Put Findings to Action

Modern ships use three different methods to scout for icebergs when moving through the Labrador Current. They use radar, they use GPS tracking, and they get information from aircraft that track the icebergs. Notice that two of these three sources are from outside the ship—from third parties. Also note that they no longer rely on human eyes, which are too easily fooled by illusions.

Apply Lessons Learned From the Titanic Tragedy to Your Sales Opportunities

1.   Seeking multiple sources of information—especially third-party sources—will clear up any illusions your company may be facing. Such illusions could include:

  • Believing your products meet your potential buyer’s needs when they actually do not, and that any losses you face are due to pricing.
  • Believing yourself to be ahead of your competitors when they have, in fact, developed an innovative new offer you are unaware of.
  • Estimating your competitors’ costs as higher than they actually are, causing you to price above them regularly.

2. No matter your company’s size, the strength of its organizational structure, the efficiency of its processes, or the effectiveness of its business plan; you can still be hurt badly by your competitors.

3. Understanding a “head-on collision” can actually be more revealing than a “glancing blow” where problems are discovered slowly and with little time to react.

4. Reacting offensively to negative feedback will only make things worse. Reflexively choosing the path that appears to avoid destruction may not be the safest course.

5. Deliberately seeking constructive criticism is analogous to this “head-on collision.” Go out of your way to get negative feedback so that you know precisely where to improve.

6. The larger your company, the more time it needs to react. Thus, a large company needs this kind of critical feedback well before a competitor irreversibly overtakes it.

We still have one loose end to tie up in the Titanic’s story: Why did the nearest ship not come to Titanic’s rescue? We will cover that in the final blog post of this series.


Feedback Smooth Sailing

Thomas Watkins on sablinkedinThomas Watkins on sabemail
Thomas Watkins
Program Analyst at Primary Intelligence
Thomas is responsible for identifying what drives buyer decisions and ultimately for delivering business outcomes for his clients. Thomas has a Master of Public Administration, with a focus on analysis.
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